Friday, September 30, 2005

Two Links and a Quote

As Banned Book Week winds down, here is an article on banning gay books. And here you can read an excerpt from Barbara Ehrenreich's new book Bait and Switch. It sent chills down my spine and raised my blood pressure a few notches. Finally, here's a bookish quote that I found appropriate given the recent urge to count multiple volumes:

If you have ten books which you have acquired because you truly want them, you are a collector and your library is in some degree a portrait of you. But few people with the book mania reckon their books in tens; they count them in hundreds and thousands. If you read a great deal you will almost certainly want some books which are out of the ordinary, because of their rarity or beauty. It is at this point that I beg you to be careful. You will be tempted to think of books as objects, not to be read, but to be possessed for show, and when that happens, you are easy prey to those booksellers who deal in harlot volumes, tricked out in pretty skins (which will not last becasue the leather is not well prepared) and bedizened with gold paint that used to be daubed on steam-heating coils. Robertson Davies, "Books are for Reading"
The excerpt is included in Where Books Fall Open by Bascove, a delightful book good for an afternoon's reading pleasure.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

In Preparation

In preparing to begin reading Clarissa, I searched through my shelves for something about the book. The only thing I could find was a short discussion of only a few pages in Cassell's History of English Literature. (My personal lack of information was a bit disappointing. Even so, I will not be purchasing this any time soon.) The discussion of Clarissa is included in a chapter called "Richardson and Fielding: Tragic Pastoral and Comic Epic." In it the author of Cassell's, Peter Conrad, declares the novel to be "about a vocational martyrdom to literature," and that Clarissa "must choose between living and writing." It is also a battle between the drama represented by Lovelace, and the novel represented by Clarissa. Even though Clarissa dies in the end, she still wins out because she has stayed true to the form of the novel throughout, proving that the drama is the weaker literature. Well okay then. Conrad mentions Johnson's comment on the novel, "Johnson indeed made one of the shrewdest comments on Richardson's novel when he said that the man who read Clarissa for the story would end by hanging himself." Is there a hanging in my future? Or, because I am not a man, will I escape that fate? Personally, I think I am in more danger of being crushed to death by the weight of the book. I'm going to pull out the old saw, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Obviously I'm on the side of coming out of the reading stronger. But since I haven't been lifting Don Quixote for a couple of weeks my muscles are starting to go slack. I plan on some preliminary warm-up lifting tomorrow before digging in on Saturday. I've decided to forego a more traditional weightlifting method and attempt to sumo wrestle it to the sofa after much stomping and grunting around my living room in preparation. I won't be wearing the little thong thingy though. The weather has turned much cooler here and I need the fuller coverage of a blanket.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Browsing on a Wednesday Afternoon

  • How many times have you read War and Peace?. Andrew Marr claims to have read it 15 times. A.S. Byatt says she's read it five and then chirps, "Everyone who reads books reads it." I guess I don't actually read books because I have never read it. So if anyone can shed light on what I am really doing when I stare at those black squiggles on a page, I'd be much obliged.
  • For some reason I am fascinated by the ruckus over Google Print. I think it a fabulous idea but lots of people don't. For a reasoned op-ed on the pro side, read Tim O'Reilly's article
  • A Times UK article on banned books week in the US. The ALA's "list of opposed books reveals a society still struggling with major hang-ups about sex, race, religion and Holocaust victims who are insufficiently jolly." We do have major hang-ups and I think it about time we stop blaming it on the Puritans, and while we're at it, let's get rid of the Protestant work ethic too.
  • Jeanette Winterson writes a short piece about a lot of things and concludes, "Books are not luxuries. In a squeezed and shrinking world--like one of those awful rooms out of Poe, that squashes you to death--books don’t just line the walls, they stop them closing in." Ya gotta love someone who says stuff like that.
  • Scott Esposito of Converstaional Reading has well done article at Raintaxi on litblogs.
  • Vocabulary Building

    Here are a couple words that could come in handy sometime:

  • Vinolent. Addicted to wine; intemperate or drunken. According to World Wide Words from whence I got this word, Chaucer uses it in Canterbury Tales: "In woman vinolent is no defence, This knowen lecchours by experience." But lest you think it a dead word, it makes an appearance in the press from time to time.
  • Strabismus. "The library must discourage, as conducive to strabismus, any crossover tendencies or attempts at the simultaneous reading of several books" (Umberto Eco--who else?--"How to Organize a Public Library"). The word, potentially useful to the bookish sort, is a noun meaning an abnormal alignment of the eyes; the condition of having a squint. The squinting, no doubt, comes from reading too much or, as my husband always complains to me, reading in the dark. But I like reading in dim light where there is no glare from the page and I have yet to develop a squint from it. I know my husband will say that the key word is "yet" and that it is only a matter of time before my "bad habit" will lead me to strabismus, but I contend that the bright light bouncing off the white page makes me squint and gives me a headache. We'll never agree on this, and each of us is just waiting to be able to say someday, "I told you so."
  • Tuesday, September 27, 2005

    More on Banned Books Week

    Book Standard has several articles about banned books week. Be sure to check out Book Banning Around the Globe and Celebrating the Freedom to Read. The latter article even mentions the Minneapolis Public Library and their week's doings. Then of course, there is the list of Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2004. I must be getting old because I haven't heard of most of them.

    Personal Essay Class, Week Two

    Class last night was interesting. On the one hand it was more focused so there wasn't the blabbing free-for-all of introductions and everyone trying to sound impressive (like the guy who said that five different pyschics told him he would write something significant). On the other hand I felt like I had been psychoanalyzed. We were supposed to write a story of a launching moment, a story, not an essay, which we could use to launch into something more universal than our own personal memoir. Most people had less than one page that turned out to be more description than story. I had a full three pages of story which included stuff about my family. I had in mind three or four ways I could take it into an essay. But the the class had other, very different ideas. They wanted family psycho-drama. The lesson for me is to be, not more careful, but more precise. Which goes along with one of the essays we read and discussed, Virginia Woolf's "The Death of the Moth." I've read this essay so many times I was bored by it. But I never read it as a study of method. And sitting in class listening to the discussion, the essay suddenly became one of the most amazing things I've read. The precision and beauty of the language, the compactness of the essay itself, and how it takes something so very specific and particular and shows it to be so much more. My goal now is to strive for the same thing in my own essays. Unfortunately, this conflicts with the joy in the language I felt in the Chesterton essay, "A Piece of Chalk." Chesteron layers language like a cake, he circles round and round, adding detail upon detail, until suddenly, with a flourish, he swirls the last bit of frosting on top. Can one be compact and precise while layering? Or instead of a rich, decadent cake would I find a miserly and dry oatmeal cookie with a raisin on top? I guess I'll get a chance to try it out in the next assignment where we get to write a "story" about an aspect of life where we feel vulnerable and not totally in charge. That will be ripe with possibility for my psychoanalyzing classmates.

    Monday, September 26, 2005


    Week two of my writing class tonight. I completed all of my assignments, even read each essay twice and read a few extra essays by the same authors just for kicks. I've got my "defining moment" story written and we'll see how it goes. In the meant time, it's Banned Books Week. Have you read a banned book lately?

    Sunday, September 25, 2005

    The Count

    Inspired by Bookworld, Golden Rule Jones, and This Space, I have been counting multiple volumes of books. Thank goodness my Bookman helped me or I'd have been at it for days. I counted all books (including different editions of the same book) by and about an author as well as a few books that one particular novelist (Ursula LeGuin) had translated. I made the cut off five or more and came away with a list of 103 different authors. So for the purpose of this post and an attempt at brevity, I cut the list off at 10 or more and still have 28 authors. My husband is as obsessive about books as I am and some of the authors on the list are his doing. So here it is: Virginia Woolf: 45 Adrienne Rich: 35 Charles Dickens: 29 Margaret Atwood: 24 Stephen King: 20 Shakespeare: 20 Doris Lessing: 18 Anne Rice: 18 Ursula LeGuin: 17 Amanda Cross/Carolyn Heilbrun: 15 Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: 15 Robert Heinlein: 14 Marge Piercy: 14 Jane Austen: 13 Marion Zimmer Bradley: 12 Orson Scott Card: 12 Erica Jong: 12 A.A. Milne: 12 Lynn Abbey: 11 A.S. Byatt: 11 Samuel Delany: 11 Sharon Green: 11 Vita Sackville-West: 11 Laura Ingalls Wilder: 11 Stephen R. Donaldson: 10 May Sarton: 10 John Steinbeck: 10 Sheri Tepper: 10

    Saturday, September 24, 2005

    In Which Montaigne Gives Jean Bodin a Metaphorical Slap in the Face

    In his essay "In Defence of Seneca and Plutarch" we find Montaigne getting a bit riled up. Jean Bodin was best know for his books in which he laid out a philosophy of history and it's study. He also wrote a book on witchcraft that was used to justify the murder of thousands. But it is for his books on history that Montaigne here takes exception. Montainge cleverly meanders his way into the attack on Bodin by first starting with a Calvinist pamphlet that has the nerve to compare his beloved Seneca with the Cardinal of Lorraine. He scoffs and declares the Cardinal's fame simply the result of being fortunate to live when he did and whose "ability was [not] anywhere near Seneca's nor... his pure and as inflexible as his." Montaigne's supporting evidence for Seneca is Seneca's own writing where his "virtue is so evidently alive and vigourous." From here he turns to Bodin. First, he lays on the charm: "Jean Bodin is a good contemporary author, endowed with far better judgement than the mob of scribblers of his time: he merits our own considered judgement." Then, he sharpens the knife: "I find him a bit rash in that passage of his Method of History where he accuses Plutarch not only of ignorance (on that he can say what he likes: I do not hunt that game) but also of frequently writing 'things which are incredible and entirely fabulous' (those are his very words)." Plutarch is one of Montaigne's favorite authors and he is not going to let Bodin get away with his rashness. He writes, "to charge him [Plutarch] with having accepted as valid currency things unbelievable and impossible is to accuse the most judicious author in the world of lack of judgement." So Montaigne begins to circle and stalk Bodin. First he takes the example Bodin uses in his accusation of Plutarch, the story of a Spartan boy who allowed a stolen fox cub hidden under his tunic to tear out his stomach rather than be caught out in his theft, and calls it a "badly chosen example." He then goes on in great detail explaining why. What it boils down to is that Bodin did not take into consideration the history of Sparta and "hundreds of harsher and rarer examples." Finally, Montaigne goes in for the kill, "We must not judge what is possible according to what seems credible or incredible to our own minds (as I have said elsewhere). It is nevertheless a major fault into which most people fall--and I do not say that of Bodin--to make difficulties about believing of another anything which they could not or would not do themselves." Ah, but Monsieur Montaigne, you did say that of Bodin ever so slyly and indirectly, for what else were you doing the last three pages? Montaigne follows this with another quibble with Bodin. Apparently Bodin did not think Plutarch dealt fairly with his comparisons between famous Greeks and Romans. But this is a mild and uninteresting dispute that sandwiches the serious accusation. The editor does not note how this essay was received. He does say, however, that it was pretty nervy of Montaigne to challenge Bodin's historical interpretation. In these days of everyone being a critic, what Montaigne did is not so daring. But I am left with a longing for more criticism written with the wit and intelligence of Montaigne's. Next week's Montaigne essay: "The Tale of Spurina"

    Thursday, September 22, 2005

    Safe from the Storm

    Last night we had a huge thunderstorm come through the Twin Cities and even a few tornadoes and some hail the size of a tennis ball. Most of the time the biggies peter out by the time they hit the metro area and all we get is a lot of rain, lightning and thunder. The TV weather people around here live for this kind of thing and all the local stations had interrupted regular broadcasting to pant with excitement about their spiffy radar images. I can understand why people begin to not take severe weather seriously--the news hypes it, nothing happens over and over again so why should we believe them this time? The storm was still outside the metro area and we expected the usual to happen, so we popped in the tape we made from Tuesday night of Dancing with the Stars that we had to miss because of book group. We got about 15 minutes into it and heard the sirens go off. We never hear the sirens at our house given that we live close enough to the Minneapolis/St Paul airport that my husband sometimes picks up radio chatter from the planes on his Apple G5. So when we heard the sirens we turned on the television and decided that it would be good to spend some time in the basement. On with the long pants and the shoes, the lights start to flicker, grab the flashlights, where is the cat? And in all of this I am also thinking, must get my reading glasses and what book should I take with me? I paused to look at the books on my bedside table and then realized that our library is in the basement so I'd have plenty to read. I don't know why I thought I would need something to read since we had the radio on listening to storm reports. If the power was going to go I certainly wouldn't be reading by flashlight. And if our maple tree crashed through our roof or a tornado landed on top of us I'd certainly have other things to worry about. So down I went without a book, but was comforted by the presence of the library. We made it through the storm just fine. The worst of it stayed north of downtown. We got lucky. But I've been thinking about why I needed a book with me. I've decided that a book is a talisman; as long as I have a book with me everything will be okay. And because I believe that, I can then relax and focus on the situation instead of let the stress get the better of me. My rational mind knows that a book will not save me from a disaster. But to the rest of my mind, a book is the best security blanket there is.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Not For the Weak of Stomach

    Lessons in Taxidermy is a fast paced memoir by Bee Lavender detailing her life of illness. At the age of 12 she was diagnosed with cancer and a large tumor was removed from her neck along with most of her thyroid. Not long after that her dentist found a shadow on her jaw in her x-ray that turned out to be a cyst, unrelated to the cancer. She had surgery to remove it which meant her jaw was wired shut for a month. After a few weeks she went to the hosital sufferring from malnutrition. Not long after that she began vomiting at school, her jaw still wired shut. The school sent her home. She did not want to go to the doctor but ended up in the hospital the next day in emergency surgery because her appendix had burst. The day after her surgery her stomach was so swollen she had to go through surgery again because she had a septic infection. They had to clean the inside of her abdomen and all of her organs. She almost died. She wanted to die. She still hadn't turned 13. And it only gets worse. Repeated bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia, skin cancer, a major car accident, nearly bleeding to death after the birth of her first child and there is still more. The book is one horror after another. One wonders how anyone could live through so much. But she did and does. The writing itself is crisp and enjoyable. But look past the horrors and there isn't much there. She does not do much reflecting. She declares herself a freak; dares the reader to call her a freak like the doctors and her classmates did:

    My primary identity is found in my body, in the scars, in the injuries and injustice and disease and decay. My genetic code conveys the simple truth that I'm a freak; no other information about me is relevant. But nobody can see that now. The clothes and family and job act as refraction, creating an illusion to distract people from seeing the truth.
    The book breaks the illusion while it creates another one--the illusion of a person who appears to be just fine in spite of it all. Because throughout the book is a feeling on underlying anger. I felt a bit dirty and guilty after finishing the book, like a gawker who stood around after a horrible accident and did nothing but watch. I wanted to look away from time to time but it was too fascinating and I couldn't. I don't know which is more repulsive, all that Bee Lavender has gone through or me not being able to put the book down.

    A Night at Home

    I am home tonight. Whew. I am a homebody so I was starting to feel a bit frazzled having not been at home three of the last four nights--concert on Saturday night, writing class Monday night, book group last night. Our group of four met at a cafe in Minneapolis called Wilde Roast. It's a newer cafe and wow, is it classy. It is Oscar Wilde themed, has dark wood floors and coffee bar, a sort of Victorian sitting "room" with wingback chairs and a fireplace. My Bookman and I shared a vegan apple turnover and a hot chocolate coffee. The turnover was so-so but the coffee was delicious! And we talked about the book too--Explicit Content--for about 15 minutes. To our credit we did meander over other literary topics like reading books in order to better understand a culture or alternative point of view, and the familiar fiction v. nonfiction theme. A nice evening was had by all. There seems to be things going on in the book world, so here are some links you may find interesting:

  • Google is now being sued by the Author's Guild whose "suit alleges that the $90 billion search engine and advertising juggernaut is engaging in massive copyright infringement at the expense of the rights of individual writers." The Guild is based in New York and has about 8,000 members.
  • In which Steve Almond writes that Humbert Humbert really loved Lolita and there many disagreeing comments. I have not managed to read Lolita yet. It is one of those books I keep meaning to get to.
  • The Kirkus Review gives Anne Rice's new book Christ the Lord and starred review. It does not appear to be online yet, but here it is:
    A riveting, reverent imagining of the hidden years of the child Jesus. Attacked by a vicious bully, seven-year-old Yeshua employs uncanny powers to drop his assailant onto the sand and then to bring him back to life. It's the remarkable beginning of the 26th novel by an author whose pulpy vampire chronicles hardly prepare us for a book so spiritually potent as this. Following Jesus and his family's journey from Egyptian exile to their ancestral home, it recasts Bible stories (the Magi's visit, the presentation at the temple) in the detailed context of Jewish rebellion against Herod Archelaus, the impious ruler of Israel. A cross between a historial novel and an update of Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief, it presents Jesus as nature mystic, healer, prophet and very much a real young boy. Essentially, it's a mystery story, of the child grappling to understand his miraculous gifts and numinous birth. He animates clay pigeons, causes snowfall and dazzles his elders with unheard-of knowledge. Rice's book is a triumph of tone -- her prose lean, lyrical, vivid -- and character. As he ponders his staggering responsibility, the boy is fully believable -- and yet there's something in his supernatural empathy and blazing intelligence that conveys the wondrousness of a boy like no other. Rice's concluding Author's Note traces the book's genesis to her return to Catholicism in 1993, her voracious reading -- a mountain of New Testament scholarship, the Apochrya, the ancient texts of Philo and Jospephus -- and her passionate search for Jesus of the Gospels. With this novel, she has indeed found a convincing version of him; this is fiction that transcends story and instead qualifies as an act of faith. Joins Nikos Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ and Endo's A Life of Jesus as one of the bolder re-tellings.
    She just keeps getting more and more weird.
  • There's a Neil Gaiman interview at Book Standard. He was one of the script writers for the upcoming movie of >Beowulf
  • Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    Out the Door

    Seems I've been rushing places lately. Now I'm rushing out the door to meet with my occasional book group. So I leave you with only a few links:

  • Google Print is still controversial: Wired News and CNN. It's all about copyright.
  • Something fun: Uncyclopedia
  • I'll be back tomorrow with my a review of Lessons in Taxidermy

    Quick Check-In

    Thanks to everyone for the kind words about the writing class I am taking. Class last night was interesting. Not quite what I expected but not bad either. I do have some really annoying classmates, however. Like the one when we were introducing ourselves rambled on an on talking about all the essays she wrote without realizing they were essays and then telling us about some of them. Finally she wound down and said, "but I don't know what to say," shrugged her shoulders and stopped talking. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. Then there is the guy who, every time the teacher asks if there is a question he has one. But his are statements cloaked as questions. He is rather full of himself because all of his friends tell him what a good writer he is and he made it a point to make sure we all knew it too. He was sitting next to me and whenever he'd start in with his "questions" I'd slip into a daydream about stabbing him repeatedly with my pen. I must be sure not to sit next to him again, or, barring that, have nothing sharper than my pen with me in class. I am also the only blogger in the class. No one asked for the site address so I don't have to worry too much about anyone popping by and recognizing herself in a comment here. I say herself because there are only two men out of about 20 students. The assignment for next week is to read G.K. chesterton's "A Piece of Chalk", E.B. White's "Once More to the Lake" and Virginia Woolf's "Death of the Moth." Then were are to write a description or story of a "defining moment" of our own, something we might be able to turn into an essay. The hardest part will be deciding which defining moment of my own to use.

    Monday, September 19, 2005

    Class Act

    Aside from a day or two's training for something at work, I haven't sat in a classroom for any extended period of time since--let's just go with a very long time. So it is with much excitement and a little nervousness I prepare to embark on a 12-week writing class at the Loft Literary Center. The class I am taking is called "The Personal Essay" and it is being taught by Cheri Register author of Packinghouse Daughter which won a Minnesota Book Award. There is a text for the class, Phillip Lopate's The Art of the Personal Essay. And like the good teacher's pet suck up of a student that I've always been, I've already read the introduction of the book even though there is no assignment to do so. I have had to work hard to keep myself from reading more than that since I owned the book even before I signed up for the class and had been eyeing it on my basement library shelf all summer. The book promises to be good, with a wide variety of essays. What book about the personal essay would be complete without Montaigne? He's there with three essays, all of which I have read already (I am too smug about this--will have to be careful). I must mention though, in looking through the essays in the book, I see that Lopate has managed to include one by himself. According to the dust jacket blurb about Lopate, he is a writer of personal essays. That's fine, but to include one of your own essays with the likes of Montaigne, Lamb, Woolf and Orwell seems so--pretentious. The catalog promises the class it will be 40% discussion of the "master essays" and craft issues, 40% "airing and discussion of student work" which makes is sound like the student essays will be coming from a dark, dank rootcellar or a smelly gym locker, and 20% in-class writing which will likely be exercises meant to get our creative juices flowing. I am not relaxed in a classroom and am rather shy; this may prove to be an interesting experiment. In spite of any trepidation and frequent bouts of sarcasm, I decided to take the class for multiple reasons. I am thinking about getting an MFA and considering my only writing class in college was "advanced expository writing" I thought this class would be a way to begin to test the waters. I also do not make enough time for writing, so I'm hoping this will be a start toward gaining a sort of discipline. And, as a side benefit, I am hoping it will improve my blogging, not only by providing bloggable material but also by improving my blog writing since I tend to view this blog as a combination of book conversations and mini essays rather than a diary or journal of some kind. I keep a diary and believe me, you don't want me to write here like I write there--way too much whining, woe is me, and cussing at people who have made me angry. So off I will go tonight with my (paper)notebook and purple gel ink pen, hoping the teacher likes me and likes me best and dreaming that the class will applaud my essays and declare me the best essayist since my pal Montaigne set pen to paper.

    Sunday, September 18, 2005

    Lazy Sunday

    Feeling a little tired today. My husband and I had free tickets to the Loggins and Messina concert last night. We are morning people and we were out past our bedtime. The seats weren't that good--we couldn't see a quarter of the stage--and the accoustics were terrible--the sound kept bouncing back from the higher seats in front of the stage. As a consequence we couldn't hear anything they said and unless we knew the song we couldn't hear the lyrics either. But the tickets were free so I can't complain too much. The audience was decidedly older and didn't loosen up until they'd had a few $7 beers each. But then they started acting like it was a sporting event and there were mass departures for the bathroom and half the arena left before the first encore. My husband and I were sitting on the end of a row and we missed a good portion of the concert because we had to keep getting up to let people by. Very frustrating. We are going to see Cirque du Soleil on Thursday--free tickets--and I hope the audience is better. So today will be a lazy day of reading. And if you're looking for some online reading, here's a few things of interest:

  • There's a book out about the creators of Curious George. Theirs is an interesting story. They were German Jews and escaped from the Nazis during the war. You can read about it here and here. I loved Curious George when I was a kid. My favorite story was the one where he ate the puzzle piece. I love jigsaw puzzles and when I was growing up puzzles were a family event. There'd be a sale at Toys-R-Us and we'd buy three or four 1,000+ piece puzzles, the harder the better. Then the folding card table would go up in the middle of the living room and we'd all sit down on a side, Mom, Dad, me and Sister. It was great fun. But we always had to be careful because we had a dog and if we dropped a piece on the floor the dog might get a little too curious.
  • Zadie Smith gets a good review from the NY Times.
  • And Myla Goldberg's Wickett's Remedy gets a so-so review.
  • Jay McInerney takes exception to Naipaul's proclamation that the novel is dead:
    I write novels. In fact, I just finished one, which is one reason I was alarmed to hear VS Naipaul declaring recently, in an interview with the New York Times, that the novel was dead. Which would make me, I guess, a necrophiliac. Naipaul essentially argues - stop me if you've heard this one before - that non-fiction is better suited than fiction to dealing with the big issues and capturing the way we live now. An accompanying essay, "Truth is Stronger than Fiction", expanded on the theme, and concluded with a lament: "It's safe to say that no novels have yet engaged with the post-September 11 era in any meaningful way." To which we might ask, just for starters, where is the movie, or the big non-fiction tome that has done so.
  • Saturday, September 17, 2005


    In this week's Montaigne essay, "On Anger", he cautions against taking rash actions against someone with whom you are angry. "No passion disturbs the soundness of our judgments as anger does," writes Montaigne. It is, therefore, imperative that we take a step back and cool our heels before we attack, take revenge or inflict a punishment. This is especially true when it comes to children. Montaigne is not an advocate of "spare the rod, spoil the child":

    How many times I have been tempted, among other things, to make a dramatic intervention so as to avenge some little boys whom I saw being bruised, knocked about and flayed alive by some frenzied father or mother beside themselves with anger. You can see fire and rage flashing from their eyes--"they are carried away by burning wrath, like boulders wrenched free from the cliff crashing down the precipitous slope"--(according to Hippocrates the most dangerous of distempers are those which contort the face) as with shrill wounding voices, they scream at children who are often barely weaned. Children are crippled and knocked stupid by such batterings/
    (Montaigne had an interesting view for the time, he believed that, as future citizens, children belonged to the State and it was injudicious to allow parents to educate and bring them up as they saw fit.) Punishments "judiciously weighed" are more acceptable and effective for the recipient. When we are angry, our judgment is clouded, "Faults seen through anger are like objects seen through mist: they appear larger." But just as we should not lash out in anger, we should not hide our anger either, "By hiding our choler we drive it into our bodies." This throws the humors all out of whack. Too much choler is a bad thing, it will eat out your insides. Montaigne would rather "make an exhibition" of his passions "than to brood over them" to his cost. He admits to getting angry, but says he tries to keep it short and normally uses only his tongue. These days there is medical proof that not expressing our anger, our choler, damages our bodies and minds. We have created numerous acceptable outlets from sports to therapy for venting our anger. Yet it seems to continue to increase. Road Rage used to be a rare occurrence, these days it is nearly impossible to drive even a short distance without someone cutting you off, tailgating you or making vigorous hand gestures in your direction. Simple disagreements escalate into full blown arguments with guns. Why are we so angry? Why do we take it out on one another? What ever happened to "using your anger" to make a difference for more than just yourself? To bringing about change in laws and society that benefit everyone by funneling your anger into a "cause"? Montaigne writes,
    Aristotle says that choler sometimes serves virtue and valour as a weapon. That is most likely; nevertheless those who deny it have an amusing reply: it must be some new-fangled weapon; for we wield the other weapons: that one wields us; it is not our hand that guides it: it guides our hand; it gets a hold on us: not we on it.
    Clearly anger is a double-edged sword. In the heat of the moment we are not in control. But the kind of anger that is deep, the kind that is awakened because of a violation of social justice--poverty, racism, war--that kind of anger can sometimes serve as a weapon. And history proves that it has been wielded successfully. I'm beginning to think that much of the anger bubbling up and exploding these days is a symptom of a deeper anger that people don't know what to do with. So we subvert it and destroy the body of our society instead. But as Montaigne indicates, we have a choice. Will we use the weapon of our anger against ourselves or will we use it to serve virtue and valour? Next week's Montaigne essay: "In Defence of Seneca and Plutarch"

    Laying in Provisions

    Every Friday morning on Minnesota Public Radio they have a weather segment with a climatologist from the University of Minnesota. Part of it is an answer to a listener question. The question was what is the earliest date in the Twin Cities that there has been snow? The earliest trace amounts of snow, also known around here as flurries, fell on September 15, 1916. The earliest measurable snowfall happened on September 24, 1985. Therefore, even though it is just before 9 am and the temperature is 57 and we are expecting a high of about 76 today, it could snow at any time. It is necessary then, to lay in provisions. Because even though I've lived here for 11 years now and we've not had a blizzard in all that time, I've heard stories. I know it can happen. I must be prepared. Thankfully, Half-Price Books was having a 20% off sale. Did you think I meant stocking up on food and blankets? I already have a warm winter comforter and enough blankets to make me sweat at 20 below. As for food, as long as there is hot chocolate and coffee, bread and peanut butter I'm set. I also know that I have a lot of bookshelves filled with a lot of books, but one can never be too prepared. If I'm stuck in my house for two or three days that's a lot of reading time! And so, added to my stockpile of provisions are Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare, The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway, Interpretation and Overinterpretation by Umberto Eco, and Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford. I've not read Kadare before but I've been wanting to so I hope this is a good book to start with. I have a sort of grudge against Hemingway's machismo and have made it a point in my life to avoid reading him. But I saw part of a show the other night on PBS about Hemingway and he seemed like such a sad man that I felt a little sorry for him. I thought I'd give him a second chance. The Eco book was not something I was looking for, it just waved at me from the shelf so I obligingly took it home. As for the book on Millay, I like her poetry, have heard she had an interesting life, have spied this book a few times and passed it up, and this time finally gave in. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    Don Quixote Was Just a Warm Up

    My Bookman hand delivered to me the copy of Clarissa that I ordered (that's the one by Richardson, not the one by Carol Talley). If I had realized what I was getting myself into I may not have been so enthusiastic. Because, you see, it turns out that the Don Quixote Mind/Body Workout was actually just a warm up. 1,500 pages doesn't just sound like a lot, it is a lot! In terms of dimensions my hardcover DQ is about 6 inches wide and 9 inches tall not including the cover. Clarissa, a paperback is 5.75 inches wide and 9 inches tall. DQ, not including the cover, is 2 inches thick while Clarissa comes in at just over 2.5 inches. Wow. It's a rather daunting sight. I will not be carrying the book with me anywhere. I will also have to employe the reading pillow my friend (aptly named) Clarissa made for me several years ago because I will not be able to hold this book up to read. But read it I will. I figure if I can make it through this book, everything else will seem short by comparison! As I mentioned before, I'll be starting Clarissa on October 1st. Anyone who would like to join in on the fun still has time to get a copy. And there will be no chickening out and reading the abridged version. I didn't get any farther along in Nabokov's lectures last night because I have been engrossed in reading a train wreck of a book called Lessons in Taxidermy. This book is not for anyone who does not have a strong stomach. I'll be done with it in the next day or so and will give the full skinny on it then since I haven't quite figured out what to make of it just yet. But since I mentioned Nabokov, the Village Voice has an historical perspective essay on Lolita and a blurb on pulbishers trying to capitalize on the popularity of Reading Lolita in Tehran.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    Nabokov and Tattoos

    I started reading Nabokov's Lectures on Don Quixote last night. I have only read the intro to the book and the introductory lecture by Nabokov and already I find myself wishing I had professors like him when I was in college. How can you not be charmed by someone who says things like this:

    Let us not kid ourselves. Cervantes is no land surveyor. The wobbly backdrop of Don Quixote is fiction--and rather unsatisfactory fiction at that. With its preposterous inns full of belated characters from Italian storybooks and its preposterous mountains teeming with lovelorn poetasters disguised as Arcadian shepherds, the picture Cervantes paints of the country is about as true and typical of seventeenth-century Spain as Santa Claus is true and typical of the twentieth-century North Pole. Indeed, Cervantes seems to know Spain as little as Gogol did central Russia.
    And this:
    Some critics, a very vague minority long dead, have tried to prove that Don Quixote is but a stale farce. Others have maintained that Don Quixote is the greatest novel ever written. A hundred years ago one enthusiastic French critic, Saint-Beuve, called it "the Bible of Humanity." Let us not fall under the spell of these enchanters.
    Not only can he say preposterous twice and not sound like a blustering idiot, but he can make smart and sarcastic jokes too. The only slightly funny professor I had in college was the one who taught the undergrad Shakespeare survey course. He was mildly amusing at times, but it also helped that he looked like Falstaf. And now, turning to something not remotely bookish, here, for those who expressed interest, are my tattoos. spiderweb_tattoo_IMG_0132 This was my first one. It was inspired by both Charlotte's Web and Adrienne Rich's book of poetry A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far gnome_tattoo_IMG_0130 This is my second tattoo. I designed it myself after reading Gnomes. Gnomes are vegetarian and like animals and gardening. I felt a certain affinity. Plus they are just so darn cute! Strength_tattoo_IMG_0133 My third, and most recent (two years ago). It is a card from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. It stands for power, energy, action, courage and magnanimity. It also means strength of will since it is not by physical strength that the woman tamed the lion. One of these days I will get something decidedly bookish but I haven't figured out what yet. I imagine some spiralling lettering coming out from an open book. But I can't quite see what the words say.

    Around the Net

  • Thurber Prize finalists have been announced. There are only three and I have read one of them--Jon Stewart's America. Very funny book. Has anyone read the othet two--The Borowitz Report or Funny in Farsi?
  • Now there's Google Blog Search. It puts me right up at the top. But how many people actually search for "so many books" to begin with? It's all a big tease.
  • Been meaning to catalog all of your books? Now there's LibraryThing, sort of like Flickr for your books. It's kind of cool. You get to enter 200 books for free--do any of you have only 200 books? More than that requires a $10 lifetime membership. The really nifty thing about it is that you can see what other people have in their libraries.
  • You've got to visit Artistic Interpretations. The site is filled with literary art that the site owner has collected. By literary art I mean artistic renderings of literary characters and authors. (link via Bookninja)
  • Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    This and That

    I tried to take pictures of my tattoos this evening since there was interest in seeing them, but my husband is at work and it turns out that taking photos of my ankle and calf are not as easy as I thought. So tomorrow for those. In the mean time there is this news item from the Campaign for Reader Privacy:

    Washington, DC, Sept. 13, 2005—Petitions bearing over 200,000 signatures will be delivered today to Congressional leaders in the fight to restore the safeguards for reader privacy that were eliminated by the USA PATRIOT Act, the Campaign for Reader Privacy announced. The petitions will be presented to Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), author of the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) and Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), co-author of the Security and Freedom Enhancement Act (S. 737). They will also be given to Senators who have been chosen as conferees on the legislation re-authorizing the expiring sections of the PATRIOT Act. "We are proud to present these petitions to Congress on behalf of the hundred of bookstores and libraries around the country who participated enthusiastically in the reader privacy petition campaign," Avin Mark Domnitz, the chief executive officer of the American Booksellers Association, said.
    At first I thought, "Wow! 200,000 signatures!" And then it sank in that even though it sounds like a lot, in a country of over 295 million people it is a sad, sad number. Are we so few weirdos that's all we could muster? If that's not enough to get you down, how about this: the video-game novel. Get your hankie:
    That's right: the novel. In the last few years, publishers have taken a cue from the booming world of fan fiction and have begun commissioning novels based on famous games. It's now such a successful cottage industry that when you wander into any Barnes & Noble, there are shelves groaning under the weight of books written from Resident Evil, Halo, Tomb Raider and MechWarrior.
    *sigh* It might not cheer you up after the above, but at least it's silly, Palindrome List. You'll find the perfect palindrome for any occasion.

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    I Always Knew

    I always knew I was a weirdo because I like to read so much. But now, even a major author confirms it:

    America’s a big country. In America only a few weirdos read. I mean, it seems like a lot of weirdos, but that’s because you’re a very big country.
    That author would be Zadie Smith who was interviewed for New York Magazine. That's not all she said. It's what she said about England that has everybody in an uproar. (links from Maud Newton where you can also find more links to the media backlash) I like her. At least she gives the book world some spice and personality. We might be weird but we aren't dull!

    Woo Hoo!

    I finished Don Quixote last night. I am pleased, the book turned out to be wonderful in spite of many long trudges in part one. Completing the book has left a gap on my bedside table and in my reading. Since January when I considered which book to read out of the many I was in the middle of there was always Don Quixote. I comfort myself knowing that in about two weeks I plan to start reading Clarissa. That will fill the gap! I'm going to digest DQ for a day or two, but I wanted to post a few final quotes and scenes that tickled my fancy, so please bear with me. After leaving the Duke and Duchess, DQ tells Sancho upon their reaching the open countryside:

    Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts heaven gave to men; the treasures under the earth and beneath the sea cannot compare to it; for freedom, as well as for honor, one can and should risk one's life, while captivity, on the other hand, is the greatest evil that can befall men.
    In captivity DQ includes obligations to others. It strikes me that this might be, besides boredom, why he decided to become a knight in the first place. As they ride along DQ ponders on the Alitisdora's wooing of him and is bewildered by her boldness and persistance. So is Sancho but for differnet reasons:
    Whoreson, what a heart of marble you have, and a will of bronze, and a soul of mortar! But I can't think what this maiden saw in your grace that made her surrender and submit like that: what grace, what elegance, what charm, what face, each thing by itself or all of them together, made her fall in love? Because to tell you the truth, I often stop to look at your grace from the tips of your toes to the last hair on your head, and I see more things to drive her away than to make her fall in love; I've also heard that beauty is the first and principal quality that makes people love, and since your grace doesn't have any, I don't know what the poor maiden fell in love with.
    Good ol' Sancho! And finally, Sancho catches Don Quixote, who berates him for his use of proverbs, tossing out proverbs himself:
    "No more proverbs, Sancho," sad Don Quixote, "for any one of those you have said is enough to explain your thoughts; I have often advised you not to be so prodigal in your proverbs and to restrain yourself from saying them, but it seems that is like preaching in the desert, and 'My mother punishes me, and I deceive her.' " "It seems to me," responded Sancho, "that your grace is like the pot calling the kettle black. You reprove me for saying proverbs, and your grace strings them together two at a time." "Look, Sancho," responded Don Quixote, "I say proverbs when they are appropriate, and when I say them they fit like the rings on your fingers, but you drag them in by the hair, and pull them along, and do not guide them, and if I remember correctly, I have already told you that proverbs are brief maxims derived from the experience and speculation of wise men in the past, and if the proverb is not to the point, it is not a maxim, it is nonsense."
    I'm going to miss Sancho's proverbs. I enjoyed his character and role in the book immensely.

    Sunday, September 11, 2005

    My Ten Books

    Susan at Pages Turned started it. Mental Multivitiman took up the challenge: a list of 10 books that say something about you, 10 books that have shaped and possibly even defined you. No problem! You might be thinking. Ha! Think again. I've been putting the list together since Friday and even now I am not completely satisfied with it. But here it is.

    1. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White--So began my love of spider webs and the magic and power of words. I'm sure there were other books before this that I loved, but when I think back about the first book that really meant something to me, this one comes to mind. I cry every time I read it and begin sobbing halfway through the animated movie. Once, after finishing the book on a re-read when I was about 14, my mom walked into my room to see my curled on my bed crying into my pillow. She sat down on the bed all concern and asked me what was the matter. All I could do was point to the book beside me and wail, "Charlotte's dead!" My mom said something like "oh" and made a hasty retreat.
    3. Fog Magic by Julia L Sauer--Unlike Charolotte's Web, I don't have this book any longer. It got lost somewhere along the way. I read this only once, but even so I still think about it.  It is the reason I love fog so much, you never know what you will find inside it. It is the mystery and the unknown the fog represents, the adventure offered to a girl alone, that I found and still find so appealing.
    4. Forever by Judy Blume--Aside from this being my first introduction to what sex is really like, I also learned while reading this book that I was free to read whatever I wanted and my parents couldn't see into my head and had no idea what I was reading. Liberating to say the least. Which lead a few years later to me and my sister searching the house for my mother's copy of Wifey; we found it hidden in the back of the linen closet. We each read it, then put it back in its hiding place and my mom never knew.
    5. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach--I loved this book. Read it many many times. Now it seems kind of silly, but then it told me it was okay to be yourself, to be different, to be alone. It gave me comfort in my lonely teenaged angst. The book is also about not giving up on something you believe in but more importantly, not giving up on yourself, a lesson I'm still working on. Who would have though it would be so hard?
    6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee--This is the first book I read where I fell in love with a character. I loved Atticus Finch so much I wanted him to be my dad, especially if he looked like Gregory Peck. It also helped me understand issues of race which until then hadn't managed to sink into my teenaged brain. And it spoke to my feelings of being different and not fitting in at school and at home. I think I see a theme emerging here.
    7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury--"It was a pleasure to burn." A sentence that still gives me chills. The portrayal of a society where books are burned because they cause people to think and question, a society where people are encouraged to sit and watch their wall sized televisions was quite horrifying and upsetting to a girl who closed herself in her bedroom every night to read and get away from the family television. This book brought me to understand how subversive books are. I had never thought about it before, I just read because I liked to. But this book made me start paying attention to the books I read in school and the books I chose to read. I also decided after reading this book that even though all my friends at school were talking about the latest episode of that season's hit television show, I would not become a TV zombie.
    8. All Creature Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All by JamesHerriot--I know there is more than one book here, but they cannot be separated. I read these books one summer when I was in high school. They confirmed for me that I wasn't the freakish anthropomorphizing human some of my teachers accused me of being. Here was proof that animals had real feelings and real personalities. I had been raised on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, National Geographic Specials, frequent visits to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and camping during vacations where I would sit for hours with bread in my hand, patiently waiting for the chipmunk/squirrel/bird to come and eat it. These books were the culmination, and I decided I was going to be a vet. I had let myself be talked out of horse jockey, park ranger, zoologist and zoo keeper because they just weren't practical and I was a girl/not big enough/not strong enough. I was not going to let myself be talked out of vet. I didn't become a vet, but my desire got me to go away to college and away from the far too practical influence of my parents. At college I discovered that I didn't have to be practical and promptly changed my major to English much to the dismay of my parents. I told them not to worry, I would get a teaching credential, but when they stopped paying my school bills I ditched the teaching credential and got an M.A. in literature instead--one of the least practical degrees a person can hold.
    10. A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far by Adrienne Rich--This was a light bulb book. While reading this book I finally "got" poetry and all the years of bad teaching in which poetry was a code I was supposed to crack, fell away and left me reeling in amazement. In this book Rich uses quite a bit of spider and web imagery which took me back to Charlotte's Web and wow, words are powerful things. Because of this book and Charlotte's Web, my first tattoo was a spider web with a tiny spider dangling from it. But the book also brought me back to the importance of language and what the words we use say and mean--word choice has implications and I had never thought of that before.
    11. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy-I was a budding feminist and this book added fuel to the fire. Where Adrienne Rich mixed politics with her poetry, Piercy mixed politics with her fiction. And it was good. I began to pay more attention to politics, I attended my first protest. I began to learn that I had a voice.
    12. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf--Another feminist moment and the beginning of my love of Virginia Woolf. After reading this book I did not feel like I had to justify to anyone why independence was important to me, why I liked to spend time alone, why I needed to spend time alone, and what I did when I was alone. And oh what pleasure there is in a room of one's own. Before my husband and I bought our house it was more like a desk of one's own. But now I have a whole room with the same old desk surrounded by expressions of me--books, photos, paintings, pens, computer, journals, music. It's all mine and it's not selfish; it's a necessity, it nourishes my soul.
    The hardest part about this list was not only deciding what books to put on it, but also being honest in choosing the books. But it was fun to think about. Are you up for the challenge?

    Saturday, September 10, 2005

    Two-For-One Montaigne

    This week I read two short Montaigne essays, "There Is a Season For Everything" and "On A Monster-Child". The first essay finds Montaigne comparing Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as the Censor, to his son Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as the Younger. The Censor lived a long and accomplished life. In his elder years he set about learning Greek. According to the editor's note, during the Renaissance this was generally held up as an example to be followed. But of course, Montaigne thought differently. Montaigne believed there was a season for everything (there is no mention if there is any intentional echoing of Ecclesiastes here but I would bet there is) and when you are old it is not the time in which you should learn something knew. It is one thing to undertake a short, practical study, but something else entirely to become a student. "That is exactly what we mean by tumbling into a second childhood," writes Montaigne. He surely would have hated modern times when it has in some circles become a badge of honor to be able to say that you have never grown up. Montaigne views this as a flaw:

    And the greatest flaw which they find in our nature is that our desires are for ever renewing their youth. We are constantly beginning our lives all over again. Our zeal and our desire should sometimes smell of old age. We already have one foot in the grave yet our tastes and our pursuits are always just being born.
    Instead of running around like we were youths, we should be acting our age, and if that age is old, we should act old. Old age is the time to prepare for death, to think about bringing our affairs to a close and saying farewell to people and places. We should extricate ourselves from the "desires and worries which trouble our lives." There is no need to worry any longer about "the way the world is going" or about money, "honors, erudition, health" or yourself. Cato the Younger, in killing himself after his defeat by Julius Caesar at Pharsalia, makes him, in Montaigne's eyes, the better man. While the Censor, knowing the end of life was near, took to being a student, the Younger, knowing his career was over, first had a party, then spent the evening reading, and then killed himself. The Younger was by no means elderly but he was too old to start a new career. Instead of making a fool of himself like his father did, the Younger kept his honor by removing himself from the world. A bit drastic if you ask me. You can still see these ideas fighting for dominance in the culture. When we are young our parents and other adults ask us what we are going to be when we grow up, encourage the idea that we will "be" one thing--a teacher, a police officer, a doctor. Some people manage it. But it is much more common for people to have not only more than one job, but more than one job in vastly different fields. And when we reach retirement age, the lucky ones do indeed retire and begin a sort of second childhood, while the rest continue to work at least part-time jobs. The single career life is often seen as superior. Those of us who have had many different jobs just can't make up our minds and settle down. Personally, I think both are equally as valid. What matters most is that a person is happy and doing what s/he wants to do. So a big raspberry to Montaigne for being such a stick-in-the-mud on this one. He gets kudos though for "On a Monster-Child". After seeing a 14-month old Siamese twin being displayed by its parents for money, and after meeting a 30-year old shepherd who was born without genitalia, he insists that such people are not monsters:
    What we call monsters are not so for God who sees the infinite number of forms which he has included in the immensity of his creation: it is to be believed that the figure which astonishes us relates to, and derives from, some other figure of the same genus unknown to Man. God is all-wise; nothing comes from him which is not good, general and regular: but we cannot see the disposition and the relationship.
    I realize that in insisting they aren't monsters he says they are not exactly human either. But at least he argues that the defect is not with the "monsters," but in those who see them that way. And in that I can agree. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Anger"

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    Links From Around

  • In case you haven't heard, the Booker shortlist was annouced. And the buzz is more about who wasn't on it.
  • J.K. Rowling unveiled her portrait at the National Portrait Gallery yesterday. She doesn't look very happy. Maybe it's the tiny room, or the strangely tilting table, or maybe her eggs aren't cooked right. Not sure that I like it. But if she does that's all that really matters.
  • Google Print UK goes live.
  • Where the kooks imaginative folk are: Dragon Con 4
  • Turning now to Hurricane Katrina. This National Geographic Article was published October 2004. Creepy.
  • ALA has established a A Louisiana Disaster Relief Fund. The fund is accepting monetary donations to assist libraries in Southeastern Louisiana
  • The American Booksellers Association has started a Bookseller Relief Fund to assist independent booksellers affected by the disaster.
  • The Katrina Literary Collective is collecting books to distribute to victims of the hurricane. For more information, email Amber Communications Group.
  • The Home Stretch

    Coming round the final turn and into the home stretch with Don Quixote. Sandra has finished it and liked it. I must say that I agree with her that deciding to read three chapters a week was not the best way to go about it. It did make it seem doable but, as she says, such an approach "impede[s] the narrative flow." I have a little less than 100 pages to go (and Susan is making a push for the end too). Last night DQ and Sancho left the castle of the Duke and Duchess. I admit that when Sancho gave up his governorship and then on the way back to the Duke's he and his beloved donkey feel into a pit, well, I got a little teary. Maybe not teary, but my eyes got moist. Sancho has a good heart and always the best of intentions and seeing him so sad and beaten--well it got to me. Have I ever mentioned that I get weepy over books and movies? I didn't used to, crying was for babies. But now it seems I've reached the point where the tears well up at the drop of a hat, or in this case, the drop of a Sancho and a donkey.

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    The Private Thoughts of Virginia Woolf

    The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume Two: 1920-1924 is a real treat. Not only does Woolf write about writing and her projects, but also her friends and her daily doings. One of those projects is Mrs. Dalloway. On Saturday, 29 August, 1923, she writes, "I've been battling for ever so long with 'The Hours', which is proving one of my most tantalising & refractory of books. Parts are so bad, parts so good; I'm much interested; can't stop making it up yet--yet. What is the matter with it? But I want to freshen myself, not deaden myself, so will say no more. Only I must note this odd symptom; a conviction that I shall go on, see it through, because it interests me to write it." And on Saturday, 9 February, 1924: "I'm working at The Hours, & think it a very interesting attempt; I may have found my mine this time I think. I may get all my gold out." In this volume of her diary she also meets Vita Sackville-West for the first time. On December 15th, 1922, Woolf writes of the meeting, "Not much to my severer taste--florid, moustached, parakeet coloured, with all the supple ease of the aristocracy, but not the wit of the artist. She writes 15 pages a day--has finished another book--publishes with Heinemanns--knows everyone--But could I ever know her? I am to dine there on Tuesday." And by 7 September, 1924, the relationship had progressed to, "Vita is like an over ripe grape in features, moustached, pouting, will be a little heavy; meanwhile, she strides on fine legs, in a well cut skirt, & though embarrassing at breakfast, has a manly good sense & simplicity about her which both L[eonard] & I find satisfactory. Oh yes, I like her, could tack her on to my equipage for all time; & suppose if life allowed, this might be a friendship of a sort." This volume also contains the death of Katherine Mansfield in January 1923. Woolf had a love/hate relationship with Mansfield, saw her as a woman writer with talent comparable to and rivaling her own. Woolf feels Mansfield's death deeply. Woolf wrote, "At that one feels--what? A shock of relief?--a rival the less? Then confusion at feeling so little--then, gradually, a blankness & disappointment; then a depression which I could not rouse myself from all that day. When I began to write, it seemed to me there was no point in writing. Katherine wont read it. Katherine's my rival no longer. More generously I felt, But though I can do this better than she could, where is she, who could do what I can't!" And then there is T.S. Eliot who Woolf, depending on her mood, admires, despises or finds amusing. In this instance in 1922, she found him amusing and wrote that he has "grown supple as an eel; yes grown positively familiar & jocular & friendly, though retaining I hope some shreds of authority. I mustn't lick all the paint off my Gods." And of course there is quite a bit of mundane everyday things and from that I found out a new slang word that makes me smile. The word? Collins. Here's how it's used; "I look forward to his Collins." An editor's note informs the reader that a Collins is a letter of thanks after a visit, a "bread and butter letter", named after--can you guess? Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Delightful! I don't suppose though in this day of email that very many people actually send a Collins anymore. I love reading diaries and this one is no exception. Volume Two is a great read, especially if you are partial to Virginia Woolf. If you read it though, allow yourself to do so over a longish span of time. It's much more enjoyable to read it a few entries at a time then straight through like a regular book. I tried that in the beginning and it got to be rather dull. But taken in sips, exquisite.

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005


    I am thoroughly enjoying Don Quixote at the moment. Last night I read a few scenes that made me laugh. DQ has been suffering from the wooing of Altisadora and has gotten his face all scratched up from a cat. Now, imagine him in his bedchamber in the middle of the night and the door opening slowly and quietly. He thinks it is the maiden who just won't take no for an answer. He is terrified, and so

    He stood on his bed, wrapped from head to toe in a yellow satin bedspread, a two-cornered beretta on his head, and his face and mustache bandaged: his face on account of the scratches, his mustache so that it wouldn't droop and fall, and in this garb he seemed the most extraordinary phantom that anyone could imagine.
    It is not the maiden but a duenna coming to ask a favor. But she is dressed all in white and DQ thinks she is a phantom and starts conjuring her. The Duenna, seeing DQ, is so terrified she screams. After much mayhem, they get it all figured out, but oh, what a picture! Meanwhile Sancho is turning out to be a better governor than anyone could have imagined. He sends a letter to his wife and we learn that both she and her daughter have a thing for proverbs like Sancho. This prompts the village priest to remark, "'I can't help thinking that everyone in the Panza family was born with a sack of proverbs inside; I've never seen one of them who isn't always scattering proverbs around in every conversation they have.'" Tee-hee. On a different note, will anyone be going to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath 17-25 September? Looks like there is going to be a special advance screening of the new Pride and Prejudice movie. I've heard rumors that the new version isn't very good. I can't imagine how it could come close the BBC version with Colin Firth. My sister had taped it for me off the TV long ago and I watched it so many times the tape wore out. She made me a new copy and I wore that one out too. Finally, a few Christmases ago she gave it to me on DVD. Haven't worn that one out--yet! Oh, and here I find that the Guardian has an article about the new movie. Darcy does not look very dashing in the photo. I'm sure I'll see the movie when it comes out if for no other reason than to complain about it.

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    The Holiday Continues

    I'm not managing to read as much as I had planned thise three-day Labor Day weekend. My Bookman, who rarely gets to be home on weekends, has had two of the three days off. There's walks to take and movies to rent and errands to run and coffee and snacks to enjoy. It's not over just yet so I'll be able to squeeze in a few more pages. I have gotten through about 50 pages of Don Quixote and have regretted reading it in such bits and pieces. When read in larger chunks it really is much more absorbing. I read a chapter of Rings of Saturn last night. Savoring, savoring. What a wonderful and amazing book. The Guardian has a thoughtful essay by Richard Ford that begins:

    A friend, an editor, called me. Do I know someone who can write about New Orleans? he asked. Tell us what it's like to be there now. Bring us close to what people are experiencing, to the sense of loss, to what will survive. He knew I'd lived there, had a long experience but was now gone, and so would pass this writing on to someone else. I certainly do, I said. My mind began to turn a list of names. And how do we find them? he asked. Well, of course, I said. We can't find them. They're in the city. Or they're elsewhere. They're someplace, but I don't know where. I don't know what to tell you.
    And if the news of Louisiana and Mississippi starts to drag you down, you can always read one of James Meeks' recommendations from his top ten books of Russia. If a Russian novel doesn't cheer you up, I don't know what will.

    Sunday, September 04, 2005

    Lazy Sunday

    Colm Toibin reviews a new biography on the critic Edmund Wilson. He seems to like it well enough, though says it isn't for everyone. The TLS reviewed the book a couple weeks ago (not available online) and also had good words to say about it. I must admit that I have heard of Edmund Wilson but have not read him. Though after reading the reviews I might have to peruse some of his criticism. And while you are visiting the Times, be sure to read, just in time for back to school, the essay on Allan Bloom. I never read Closing of the American Mind, but I do remember, being in college at the time, that the book brought the whole canon wars out into the open. I had a few English survey classes taught by male professors who were formerly in the military and they whole-heartedly believed there should be a strict canon. On the other side of the debate were the female professors who taught feminist literature and literature by writers of color who groused that the canon was made up of dead white men. Has anybody won this battle yet or has a truce been called? I didn't get much read yesterday in spite of it being a perfect day and night of nearly continuos thunderstorms. My dog is afraid of thunder and so I spent quite a bit of time dealing with his nearly continuous barking. He finally exhausted himself last night around 9:30 but by that time I was exhausted too. I did read about 30 pages of Don Quixote and as a result, learned a new word: Eructate. It isn't in my dictionary, but according to the great Don, it is Latin and means to belch. I also got to enjoy DQ's lecture to Sancho on the eve of Sancho leaving for his governorship. So Sancho doesn't get to big for his britches, DQ starts of by telling him:

    You, who in my opinion are undoubtedly a dolt, and who, without rising early or staying up late or making any effort whatsoever, with nothing more than the breath of knight errantry that has touched you, without further ado find yourself governor of an insula as if it were of no consequence. I say all this, O Sancho, so that you do not attribute the kindness you have received to your own merits, but give thanks first to heaven for disposing matters so sweetly, and then to the greatness that lies in the profession of knight errantry.
    I think our heroic knight is a little jealous but at the same time attempting to be wise and fatherly because then he proceeds to give Sancho some advice on how to be a good governor. And after Sancho leaves, poor Don Quixote finds that he misses his squire and mopes his way through dinner. Poor guy.

    Saturday, September 03, 2005


    Montaigne, being the man he was, living in the time he did, appears to current day concerns to be a bit preoccupied with virtue in terms of honor, and death as determined by God and Fate. "On Virtue" is an essay in which Montaigne combines the topics of virtue and Fate. He begins the essay by talking about virtue and how it is such a difficult thing to have with any kind of constancy. There are heroes who appear have miraculous flashes and appear to exceed "our natural powers." While it may happen more to heroes, "It happens even to us who are mere abortions of men." But instead of something miraculous, it is more a passion that ravishes the soul and once over we find ourselves back to being quite ordinary. But in spite of our ordinariness and obvious defects, we can still be virtuous; we don't have to be perfect. To be judged virtuous, a life must be viewed as a whole but in particular, a person's everyday routine activities. Part of these everyday activities can also include planning for death. That's all fine and good, and we can plan on dying at such and such an age in such and such a manner, virtuous and brave, but Fate might have different plans for us and there's nothing we can do about it. When it's our time to die, it's our time to die and there is no way to avoid it. Similarly, if it isn't our time to die the slings and arrows miss their mark. It is how we conduct ourselves not knowing what Fate has in store that reveals just how virtuous we are--or aren't. While we don't couch it in the same terms these days, one could say that the ideas here still hold a kernel of relevancy and truth. We talk about people in terms of good and bad, moral and immoral. A "good" person is someone who is kind and caring, who gives of themselves, who "walks the talk." A person doesn't have to belong to a particular religion, or any religion, be of a particular race or background or sexual orientation to be considered a good person. A good person can be rich or poor or somewhere in between. A good person is by no means perfect, but when that life is viewed with perspective the good shines out brighter than the bad. It is obvious, in light of the tragedy in New Orleans and Mississippi this last week, that there are a lot of good people in the world. But the real test of goodness isn't when disaster strikes. The real test is everyday. The real test is living as a good person, knowing that Fate or Death or whatever you want to call it, can happen any moment. Tomorrow you might have nothing, in an hour you might be dead. A good person is a good person in spite of that knowledge and maybe even because of it. It is not an eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall die kind of philosophy; it's not me, me, me but more of a we're all in this together. And it's not sometimes, it's all the time. While my heart is gladdened by the generosity of people offering money and homes and jobs to the victims of Katrina, I worry that when it's all over, or even before it's all over, when as Montaigne refers to it, that passion that ravishes the soul is gone, we'll forget about how good we are and return to our selfish what's in it for me lives until we are shaken from our moorings by the next disaster. Am I a good person? I like to think so. I try to be. And when I come to the end of my life I hope when I, or others, look back to judge it, that the verdict is yes, she was good. Next week, two short Montaigne essays: "There is a Season for Everything" and "On a Monster-Child"

    Not Laboring for Labor Day

    It's a holiday weekend here and I am looking forward to three days of R&R (reading and relaxing). The reading plan for these three days is something like this:

  • The weekly Montaigne essay
  • As far as I can get in Anthropology of an American Girl. After 100 pages it has finally begun to make sense.
  • A chapter of Rings of Saturn. This book is wonderful and I want to savor it so read it slowly, a chapter at a time.
  • At least 100 pages of Don Quixote
  • I have dallied, held by enchanters no doubt, with The Knight of the Lions and his faithful squire far too long. It is time to make an effort to get to the end of it especially since Sandra has convinced me to read Clarissa. So one of my holiday plans is to sally forth and purchase a copy. I had considered borrowing from my public library but I am only allowed two renewals on the same book and I'm afraid I'll have to return it before I'm done. Besides, if I'm going to make it through this mighty tome, I want it on my bookshelf as a symbol of my accomplishment. To all of those who left comments about wanting to read Clarissa "someday," perhaps the day has arrived. You are all invited to join in the crazy fun. If you are looking to rent a movie for the long weekend, may I recommend Bride and Prejudice? I just saw it last night. It is Jane Austen translated to modern day India. Very well done and loads of fun.

    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    Piling Up

    Since my husband manages a bookstore he brings home some free goodies from time to time. The goodies he brought home the other day are pretty darn good. New additions to the tbr pile:

  • The March by E.L. Doctorow. It's about Sherman's march during the final years of the Civil War.
  • A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester. Winchester, who trained as a geologist at Oxford, turns his focus this time on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Since the Richter scale wasn't around then, we can only guess that the quake measured 8.25. That's huge. And as a born and raised California girl transplanted to the Midwest who lived in Northridge in 1994 during the 6.7 earthquake, I can't begin to dream how much more terrifying an 8.25 would be. For those who might not know, every point on the Richter scale is a times 10 increase in magnitude. In CA, you learn about the San Francisco earthquake in school. You also learn that it can happen again. And as you crouch under your school desk for the earthquake drill with your hands over the back of your neck and head, you know that it's a joke because your flimsy desk is not going to save you if the roof collapses. And you spend you time under your desk during the drill thankful that it's only a drill and praying that when the Big One hits you'll be at home. So I'm excited about reading this book and terrfied at the same time.
  • Glory, glory! Octavia E. Butler has a new book, Fledgling. This one is a bit of a departure from her usual aliens and post-apocalypse books. This one is about a young amnesiac girl who discovers that she is really a 53 year old vampire genetically modified to be able to go out in daylight. She is the only survivor of her community. The book is the story of her "struggle to rebuildd her family and learn who would want--and still wants--to destroy her." This is going to be good.
  • And finally, a book that is older so I'm not sure how my Bookman came by it, but I'm glad he did, Where Books Fall Open selected, with paintings, by Bascove. This little book has colored plates of paintings of people reading along with poems about books and reading and short essays and excerpts from longer books about books and reading. It promises to be enjoyable.